Media reform in 2005: a look ahead
Dear Media Reformer,
The New Year is here, and as we take stock of the state of the world
and our nation, we must put media reform even higher on our priority
In 2004, Jon Stewart's no-nonsense critique of corporate media for
"hurting America," shown live on CNN's Crossfire, echoed the
frustrations of millions who are tired of the media's partisan
hackery, celebrity obsession, failure to hold government accountable,
narrow range of debate, unchecked commercialism, and lack of
Corporate media's failures constitute what legendary journalist Bill
Moyers describes as the greatest threat to our nation: "democracy
can't exist without an informed public." Most Americans don't know
that the presidential candidates and allied groups shattered all
campaign finance records in 2004, spending $2 billion. That's right:
billion. Most of that money bought political ads from the biggest
media companies... who gave us back deplorable election coverage.
The gap between rich and poor continues to widen, and more than 45
million Americans are living without health insurance while Congress
guts the critical programs that are the fabric of our democracy.
Public education, social security, environmental protection,
affordable housing, and accessible health care are all at risk.
Most Americans don't know the consequences of our ballooning $521
billion deficit and $7.1 trillion national debt. The media are silent
as Congress dishes out some $125 billion every year in corporate
welfare. We aren't told that global terrorism has continued to rise
each year since the attacks of 9-11, while a full 49 percent of
Americans still believe that Iraq had WMDs, and 52 percent believe
Saddam Hussein was actively supporting Al Qaeda.
Is it any surprise that surveys showed many Americans went to the
polls lacking the facts to evaluate the most important issues of our
day? There is something terribly wrong when Americans know more about
Martha Stewart's prison stay than they do about the torture scandals
at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay.
The good news
Millions of citizens understand that our bankrupt media system is the
direct result of government policies made in the public's name but
without our consent. Unprecedented numbers of citizens joined together
and organized to win a number of historic victories in 2004, proving
that public participation is indeed the answer to the media problem. A
genuine media reform movement is gaining momentum and getting results.
In 2004, the FCC's attempts to loosen ownership limits to let Big
Media get even bigger were rejected by the courts and Congress after
massive public opposition. Sinclair Broadcast Group was forced to
retract its brazenly biased Stolen Honor "news" program days before
the election. Almost every egregious action by big media corporations
- once met with muted opposition - was greeted with a swift response
from an increasingly unified, bipartisan and vocal public.
But that's just the beginning. You're reading this because you are one
of a growing number of citizens who are taking action to stop media
conglomerates from getting bigger; to strengthen alternative,
independent and non-commercial media; to force media companies to
serve the public interest; to limit advertising directed at our
children; and to make access to communications affordable and universal.
If you have not joined the Free Press Action Fund, please do so now.
Our ability to reform the media depends on your support as an activist
and as a member. Please click here to donate now. As a regular member,
you'll receive my most recent book, The Problem of The Media.
As we look to 2005, Free Press is focused on a four-point action plan
for media reform.
Media Ownership: Blocking Consolidation, Serving the Public Interest,
Fighting Commercialization. While we don't expect the FCC to lift
media ownership caps in the immediate future, it's a safe bet that
they will try again in the next four years. We're keeping the issue in
the news, conducting research and building the legal case for
ownership limits in preparation for another Bush Administration attack
on the public interest. We're also working to expand the number of
low-power FM radio stations available to communities nationwide.
Community Internet: Broadband as a Nonprofit, Public Utility. This is
one of the most exciting and promising opportunities for media
reformers. The goal is to offer affordable broadband Internet access
to residents, businesses and local governments as a basic utility -
just like water, gas and electricity. New wireless technologies allow
local governments to offer faster, cheaper and more reliable access
than ever before. But these innovations are being fought every step of
the way by the biggest telecom monopolies. We will continue to protect
the rights of local communities to determine how best to serve their
Public Broadcasting & Noncommercial Media: Enhanced Funding, Diversity
and Accessibility. True public broadcasting in the United States -
long under attack by commercial media giants and increasingly strapped
for cash - is now in serious jeopardy. In 2005, Free Press will launch
a national campaign to organize a broad coalition to advance proactive
policies that will generate secure, long-term funding for traditional,
independent and other non-commercial media - including community
radio, television, expanded public access programming, student media,
and local independent newspapers and Web sites.
Cable TV: Breaking Monopoly Control of Content. Today, 70 percent of
television viewers are cable subscribers. The cable franchise renewal
process - an agreement between a community and its cable provider -
offers a terrific opportunity to increase access to community media
and broadband Internet. Yet all too often, negotiations are done
quietly with little public participation. Working with local and
national groups, Free Press is working to vastly increase the number
of people aware of cable TV as an organizing and action issue, through
community TV and radio PSAs, as well as outreach and education to
municipal associations, nonprofits, online organizations and other
The Next Great Media Policy Battle
All of these issues - and more - will be on the chopping block when
Congress reopens the Telecommunications Act of 1996, as it is expected
to do this year, shaping our entire media system for decades to come.
All media issues hang in the balance - swaying between informed
citizen participation and aggressive corporate lobbying. Free Press
will be there to provide analysis and tools for you to influence the
debate. In preparation for the battles to come, we'll monitor and
support activism on the full range of media issues, including
copyright and intellectual property, global media, and the rights of
Resources You Can Use
We ring in the New Year with a badly broken media system, but an
energized and bipartisan reform movement. We have a number of
important victories under our belts and more momentum than ever
before. To keep it going, Free Press provides several resources that I
hope you'll continue using.
http://www.freepress.net provides updated news and information on
media issues, activism, and the media reform movement. Please visit
regularly and pass the word to friends and family about this excellent
Our recently launched five-minute weekly radio program about media
issues and activism, called "Media Minutes," is airing regularly on
several stations and can be downloaded for free. Please tell your
local radio station about it and urge them to put it on the air every
Our comprehensive Media Activist Toolkit will help you raise awareness
about media reform. If you've already ordered one, you'll receive it
in the mail soon. If not, you can still download most of the toolkit
And if you want to take your activism to the next level, join the Free
Press Action Squad, and commit to 10 hours per month of media reform
Finally, be sure to save the date for the second National Conference
for Media Reform, May 13-15 in St. Louis. Registration will begin in a
few weeks. Visit the conference Web page for more information.
This much is clear: Media reform will not happen without all of us
getting active and bringing renewed passion and commitment to building
a system that serves our families, our communities and our democracy -
not just the largest media corporations.
Thank you for being part of it.
Robert W. McChesney
Founder and President
P.S.: Two of our allies have recently launched valuable initiatives.
Please check out Consumers Union's
and Media Matters for America's
Both provide intelligent and effective tools for action.